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February 2011Conference+Meetings World21CMWtravels to Budapest and takes a look at the attractions offered on both sides of the Danube.Getting the bestfrom BudapestThe blue water of the Danube, fed byHungary's thermal waters, historicalspas and wellness centres, provides astrong argument for any planner looking tostage a conference in Budapest.A popular choice for backpackers andtravellers on the lookout for cheap kicks, thecity, split between Buda and Pest by theDanube, is an increasingly populardestination for the business traveller.Recent data from the InternationalCongress and Convention Association(ICCA) placed Budapest among the 20 mostpopular conference towns in the world in2009. It's an achievement that can beattributed to the city's intriguingarchitecture, geographic location, EastEuropean cuisine and history defined bymore than its fair share of conflict. The cityhas always attracted international visitors,and not all of them have been welcomedwith the gusto of an earnest PCO; over theyears Budapest has been invaded by theRomanians, the Russians, the Mongols andthe Germans. Fortunately, congressdelegates love a place with a bit of history,and few places have fought for their identityas long or as hard as Hungary's capital.Today the city is known for several WorldHeritage Sites, the banks of the Danube, theBuda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue andHeroes' Square, as well as Budapest's 80geothermal springs, the world's largestthermal water cave system, second largestsynagogue and third largest Parliamentbuilding, all easily accessible for the 2.3mtourists the city attracts each year.For business tourists, according to ICCAdata,Hungary places 26th in a list ofpreferred countries for international businessevents and conferences in 2009. TheHungarian Convention Bureau claims that2010 saw a spike in the conference marketfor the first time. In the first quarter of 2010,66 ICCA-standard international conferenceswere held in Hungary, and in March alone34 events represented a 36 per cent hikecompared to March 2009. The capital's share of conferencescompared to elswhere in Hungary was stillvery high in 2009 (73%), with the averagenumber of participating nations perconference at 12.3, and average length ofstay 3.3 days. And, while participation is stilldown on 2007's best, it did increase froman average of 225.3 to 230.4 people perqualifying association conference.Hotels are still the preferred venue forcongresses (74.4%), with 13.1 per cent heldin congress centres and 8.1 per cent inuniversities or research institutes. Other lesspopular options include the conferenceboats, such as Europa, which can be seendocked along the banks of the Danube. There are 15 five-star and 56 four-starhotels in Budapest, which despite someinteresting outward designs and interiors,would still benefit from a greater attention toservice. Hungary, like several former-Sovietnations, is yet to fully embrace the serviceculture that is fundamental to the mostpopular business tourism destinations.Recent additions include Boscolo Hotels'Italian-design five-star New York PalaceHotel, complete with the BoscoloConference Centre wing, and the Raczwellness hotel located at the foot of theGellért Hill, near the Elizabeth Bridge. TheContinental Hotel in Budapest's 7th district,reopened last year as Continental HotelZara following a renovation of HUF 12bn(US$59.1m). The investment includesreconstruction of the highly popularHungarian bath.Medicine (26.9%) and the economy(16.7%) are popular conference topics inBudapest, organised predominantly byinternational planners from the UK, USA,Belgium, Switzerland and France.But despite the new conference centresand hotels, Budapest still has a need forquality large exhibition and conventionfacilities. And with redevelopment atHungexpo, on the outskirts of the city, andat the SYMA Event Hall, as well as the newTóPARK project, due to open in 2012, thecity is on course to be a major EuropeanMICE player by 2012.CITY FOCUSA view of Buda's Castle HillThe Europa Conference Boat